Friday, 26 December 2014

Striped Skunk (Mouffette rayée)

Waterloo, ON
26 December 2014

     Striped Skunk Mephitis mephitis is primarily nocturnal and although it may be frequently seen during crepuscular periods it is rarely seen in broad daylight. Thus the opportunities to photograph this creature are limited.
     I was both surprised and delighted to see this individual poking around on the grass, no doubt looking for earthworms, slugs and other such prey, made available by the unseasonably warm weather we are having.
     Even people who have never seen a skunk, or do not have them in their own homelands, are familiar with this small mammal, about the size of a house cat.

     Its best known feature consists of a pair of internal perineal musk sacs, which discharge into the anus. When irritated, or faced with danger, the skunk elevates its tail and discharges a twin spray of foul smelling liquid, with a precise aim that would be the envy of most marksmen. Nothing smells quite as bad!  The odour was described by E.T. Seton as "a mixture of strong ammonia, essence of garlic, burning sulphur, a volume of sewer gas, a vitriol spray, a dash of perfume musk, all mixed together and intensified a thousand times!"

     Despite this defence that one might think almost impregnable, skunks are frequently the prey of Great Horned Owls Bubo virginianus, and I have heard anecdotally that in some areas are their favoured food.

     Personally, I find skunks to be quite charming, and based on my experience if you leave them alone they are quite happy to reciprocate the favour. In a previous house, I had one living under my porch and we got along just fine! 
     Everywhere I looked this morning American Crows Corvus brachyrynchos were abundant, even several of them mobbing an adult Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus. 

     Waterloo really should be renowned for the crow roosts that occur in downtown areas every night. The birds appear to derive the benefit of a warmer overnight temperature in the city, and they flock in by the thousands. At the recent Christmas bird count Virgil Martin conservatively estimated the roost concentrated mainly at the University of Waterloo campus at 10,000 individuals.
     It is a grand experience to watch them leaving in the morning to forage in the hinterland, or returning at night to roost. They stream by non stop for forty-five minutes to an hour.
     I am a great admirer of corvids and a couple of years ago I came across this poem ( which so pleasingly and accurately captures the essence of the urban crow roost. I would recommend it as essential reading for anyone who respects the tenacity, perseverance and beauty of crows.


  1. It is better not to expose skunksowi not to feel the horrible smell :). Regards.

  2. It's an animal I'd like to see, but not smell! A special visitor.

  3. This animal looks friendly but it does not smell nice !
    Great shots !

  4. Beautiful photos David.
    I've never seen this.
    Best regards, Irma

  5. It's that old saying "Give a dog a bad name" when as you point out, the poor animal has a niche where it can fit in well. I think it was all those old b&w movies where the villain was always a "skunk".

    We too have some huge corvid roosts and I'm going to read that poem then get back to you

  6. Hello again David!
    WOW!! I would consider myself soooo lucky to be able to take pictures of a skunk!
    They are gorgeous furry little things, if left alone, they shouldn't stink!!
    Our best wishes for a great 2015 year lots of hugs to share with Miriam :)

  7. Quite a change on your blog. Now he looks nice and fresh from David:-))))) Your pictures of the skunk I find very special. I have seen it only in a zoo and you see them just in the wild.

    I would also look a very nice turn of 2014 to 2015.

  8. Skunks are amazing mammals and one of my favorites out in the wild. Glad you were able to get closer to one. Happy New Year!